Sell­ing out to Premier Putin

Why is a ma­jor Is­raeli fundrais­ing body ap­point­ing one of the Krem­lin’s men as head of its Rus­sian op­er­a­tion?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - TRIBAL TALES AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER

LAST OC­TO­BER, I in­ter­viewed a group of twenty-some­things par­tic­i­pat­ing in the first Lim­mud to take place in Rus­sia, near Moscow. They were in­tel­li­gent and ar­tic­u­late on the fu­ture of Jewish life in their coun­try. Just one of my ques­tions re­mained unan­swered: did they not fear liv­ing in a so­ci­ety whose hard-won demo­cratic free­doms were rapidly be­ing eroded by the gov­ern­ment? They all smiled awk­wardly and de­clined to say any­thing on the sub­ject.

Ask any rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an in­ter­na­tional Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tion work­ing in Rus­sia and the re­sponse will be the same, at least on record. We don’t do pol­i­tics.

The bot­tom line is sim­ple: there is a ma­jor Jewish re­vival in Rus­sia, but it is com­ing at a price: the sti­fling of free speech and any­thing that may be con­strued as crit­i­cism of Vladimir Putin.

Whilst many Rus­sian Jews were at the fore­front of the strug­gle for democ­racy in Com­mu­nist times, now they seem con­tent, with only a hand­ful of ex­cep­tions, to con­cen­trate on their ca­reers, pri­vate lives and com­mu­nal af­fairs.

None of us liv­ing in the comfortable and free West have any right to crit­i­cise them for this; we will not have to deal with the con­se­quences of a po­ten­tial back­lash, but that does not mean that the rest of the Jewish world should join in and kow­tow to the Krem­lin.

This week it was an­nounced that Boris Spiegel is to be­come the pres­i­dent of Keren Heye­sod — United Is­rael Ap­peal in Rus­sia.

Mr Spiegel is a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ty­coon, a se­na­tor and com­mit­tee chair­man in the Duma and the pres­i­dent of the World Congress of Rus­sian Jewry (WCRJ). Though of­fi­cially in­de­pen­dent, Is­raeli gov­ern­ment sources main­tain that the WCRJ works on be­half of the Krem­lin to strengthen ties be­tween Rus­sia and the two mil­lion Rus­sian-speak­ing Jews who live around the world, mainly in Is­rael, North Amer­ica and Ger­many.

It is im­pos­si­ble to suc­ceed in busi­ness in Rus­sia to­day without be­ing aligned with the regime. Those oli­garchs who tried to sup­port the pro-democ­racy coali­tion have been hounded into ex­ile, or prison, through a mix­ture of crim­i­nal charges and fi­nan­cial re­stric­tions. Se­na­tor Spiegel, though, is firmly in the pro-Putin camp. His sub­servience was clearly on show last month dur­ing the fight­ing in the Cau­ca­sus when he joined the Krem­lin’s pro­pa­ganda cam­paign call­ing for the es­tab­lish­ment of a tri­bunal that would in­ves­ti­gate Ge­or­gia’s “war crimes” and “geno­cide”. Spiegel did not speak just as a pri­vate ci­ti­zen but har­nessed the WCRJ to the cause, say­ing that “we, as his­toric vic­tims of geno­cide, can­not stand aloof”.

Keren Hayesod-UIA, as one of the largest fundrais­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions in the Jewish world, is nat­u­rally anx­ious to keep the mil­lions flow­ing de­spite the credit crunch af­fect­ing many of its tra­di­tional donors in the West. The new Rus­sian Jewish bil­lion­aires are a largely un­tapped re­source. Spiegel is not the rich­est of them, but he is one of the best po­lit­i­cally con­nected.

Off the record, UIA of­fi­cials are very clear on the rea­sons they of­fered him the honorary post. Hav­ing a pres­i­dent of their lo­cal branch so close to the throne con­fers on the or­gan­i­sa­tion a cer­tain im­mu­nity from the re­stric­tions that trou­ble many in­ter­na­tional bodies try­ing to op­er­ate in Rus­sia, and also en­cour­ages other oli­garchs and mini-garchs to get in­volved and open their wal­lets.

Set­ting aside the ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tion be­tween the aims of the two or­gan­i­sa­tions that Spiegel now pre­sides over; has no one at Keren Heye­sod given any thought to the fact that such a bla­tant con­nec­tion to Putin’s au­thor­i­tar­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion taints them and can cause long-term dam­age that will out­weigh how­ever many mil­lions they may raise thanks to Spiegel in Rus­sia?

Through­out its his­tory, the Zion­ist move­ment (and sub­se­quently Is­rael) has usu­ally aligned it­self with the democ­ra­cies of the world.

Aber­ra­tions from this line, such as the flir­ta­tions with Mus­solini’s Fas­cists in the 1930s and close ties with the Ar­gen­tine Junta and Apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, have al­ways ended in tears.

Jewish and Is­raeli or­gan­i­sa­tions should be able to op­er­ate tact­fully in Rus­sia, without sell­ing out to Putin.

An­shel Pf­ef­fer is the JC’s spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.